Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On being an evangelical theater lover (with a bit about Tom Stoppard)

OK, so some snooty Brit crit (Charles Spencer in The Telegraph), back in early June, was going on and on about how wonderful London theater is, and how many good productions, and isn't it marvelous that people are coming to the theater in droves, even in a recession?
Well, lah-dee-dah, thought Bobo, wish I could be there and you're still stuck with your lousy food and bad teeth.
But then I arrived at Spencer's last four paragraphs, which suggest that theater retains its power a) because it is communal, when people feel isolated and alone, and b) because it deals with issues that matter, not superficial tabloid crap.

People crave what's real, as opposed to bullshit. (Look at the success of supposedly unscripted "reality" TV.) Spokane in particular loves big crowds, communal events. What if we combined the two? What if everyone in this theater community committed to proselytizing for the arts? (Look at how much attention the sports-vs.-theater comment strand has gotten on this blog.) What if each of us grabbed a neighbor or acquaintance at an Indians game and challenged him or her: I'll buy you an Indians ticket if you'll go to the theater with me sometime before the end of the year?

Spencer's drift is that predictable, comforting claptrap is not necessarily (or, at least, not exclusively) what playgoers (even the newbies) seek. Give your neighbor, your cousin, your dentist the pleasure of deeply felt emotion, communally felt.

It's just not the same as watching a sitcom at home with a couple of family members. It's like Tom Stoppard in *Arcadia* fusing thought and emotion, providing solace even though we all know that we're going to die -- and that, in an earthly sense, everything and everyone we know will vanish, forgotten, into oblivion. (Incidentally, Johann Hari's article from May in The Indepdendent that's linked here is about the best [relatively] brief synopsis of Stoppard's play that I've ever read.)

And Spencer's last four grafs are about the best pro-theater argument I've ever come across. Their applicability to our local theater scene? Among other things, that it's simply false that all folks want when times are tough is escapism. (They want some of it, sure. They don't want it exclusively.)

And is that Stoppard bit just Bobo being morbid? Not at all.
What if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? What would you do? You'd jettison the trivial stuff and tell the people who really matter how much you love them.
Then why is it any different only because you "know" that you're going to die in 40 years?

[ photo: from Sixth Street Melodrama, advertising their production of "Here We Sit, a comedy about theater," by L. Don Swartz, to be performed in Wallace, Idaho, from Nov. 6-22 ]

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At July 15, 2009 9:32 AM , Anonymous Jerry S said...

Amen, brother! It's a proven fact that once a "virgin" is exposed to live theater, they revel in it's excitement and can't wait to do it again. If I ever attend a sports event, I'll be sure to employ your suggestion, my friend!

Jerry S

At July 15, 2009 2:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What proof?


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